Toby Longsocks and Kitty Pumpkins chapters 1 -3 rough drafts

This story is appropriate for all ages.

Image: Pumpkin patch by Julian Coulton. Wikimedia Commons.

Ch 1

Don’t you wish it was Halloween every day, boys and girls? Well, in Hallows Valley, surrounded by mountains where the trees were always in the Autumn colors of yellow, orange, and gold, and the air blew with a chill wind, it was always Halloween.

Everyone loved Halloween. Every evening the people would dress up in their costumes and go and get treats. Ah, but perhaps you’re thinking that they got their doors by trick or treating from door to door. Would you be surprised if I told you that it wasn’t the case in Hallows Valley? You see, the town didn’t have a local mayor or governor, seeing as they are too much trouble (you’ll understand when you’re older), but a witch. Witch Moonlight Mist was her name, and she made all the decisions in Hallows Valley. But she was a good witch, and every night she left out a magic cauldron in the town square that would fill itself magically with candy. Candy corn, chocolates, chocolates full of peanut butter or caramel, fruit candies, you name it, overflowed out of a cauldron in a flood of sickly sweets. Well, not all candies…. not caramel apples.

Speaking of apples, our story takes place in an apple orchard where a young boy by the name of Toby Longsocks worked picking apples. He loved his job. He would always take a few apples home with him, to dip into hot caramel or to juice into hot apple cider. Since it was always cold in Hallow’s Valley, anything hot apple, including pie, was the best.

Toby was climbing up each of the apple trees, and shaking their branches to where apples would fall in a basket padded with blankets down below. Trailing behind him was Kitty Pumpkin, a fat round pumpkin with the carving of a grinning cat face with two fangs. On his head were two big cat ears. Below his pumpkin body were four fat paws that he hopped along on (Kitty Pumpkin doesn’t have legs), and trailing behind him was a fat orange tabby tail.

MEOW!,” said Kitty Pumpkin, below the tree Toby was picking apples.

“Do you want an apple?” said Toby in the tree branches.

MEOW!” said Kitty Pumpkin happily.

Toby threw down an apple and Kitty Pumpkin jumped up, catching it in the air. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch! Gulp! It was delicious. That lazy cat curled up and snoozed while Toby picked the rest of the apples.

When Toby had a basket full of apples, he put it in his wagon and he pulled it into town, with Kitty Pumpkin up on his back with his feet in the air, snoring. What did you expect? Cats can be lazy. Door to door, Toby delivered apples.

When he was tired of delivering apples, he sat at the caramel fountain, dipping a couple of his own apples in the caramel. While snacking, it was always fun watching people come and go, some of them driving their skeleton horse-drawn carriages, and sometimes ghosts of residents past just floating around like flying bed-sheets. The sun was setting, and the jack-o-lanterns that hung from the poles were swinging from the brisk breeze. The shingles atop the brick buildings creaked under the wind, and a piles of golden leaves swirled on past Toby Longsocks and Kitty Pumpkin.

Mmm…. Toby never got tired of eating caramel apples. All he needed was a nice cup of hot chocolate to go along with it. He was just in luck as the Roscoe was the Rotten, a plump ghost (rumor had it that he died of eating too many buckets full of candy corn) of a see-through light blue color came wheeling his old, rickety wooden drink cart.

“Hot chocolate or hot apple cider!” boomed the ghost. “Come and get – hey what was that for?”

“Sorry,” snickered Toby, who had just punched through Roscoe, his hand going through the portly ghost like it was going through air. “I just think it’s funny that there is so much of you, but so little of you.”

“Humph!” said Roscoe, twirling his thick black mustache that stood out in contrast to his blue form. “Well, what do you want to drink?”

“Hot chocolate, please!”

Roscoe got out a pewter of hot chocolate, the steam rising up like a new ghost coming out of the grave. Leaves fluttered past him, and he accidentally spilled the hot chocolate.

Toby didn’t know what made him laugh more, the fact that the leaves startled Rosco or that the plump ghost was now checking his ghostly apron to make sure that it didn’t have stains. It didn’t.

For a while, Toby just enjoyed the cool evening, drinking his hot chocolate.

But boy, was he in for a rude awakening when Kitty Pumpkin woke up. Meoooow, hoowwl! The orange ball was not happy in the least that he missed out on getting his own pewter of hot chocolate.

“What was I supposed to do?” shrugged Toby, taking another sip out of his pewter. “You were asleep, and I know you hate being woken up.”

Meeeeooooow! hollered Kitty Pumpkin.

“Okay, okay,” said Toby, putting his pewter, which was still halfway full of hot chocolate on the rim of the fountain, “you can have the rest of mine. Goodness!”

Happily, Kitty Pumpkin clutched the pewter in his fat, stubby front paws, and on his back, started drinking the sweet chocolate down, purring. When he finished, he let out a loud belch.

“Excuse you,” said Toby.

Meow!

Toby patted Kitty Pumpkin on his belly.

With Kitty Pumpkin placed back in the wagon, the two of them were about ready to head back to their shack at the edge of town, when Natalie Nightshade, a little witch, came zooming down the cobblestone road on her broom.

“Toby, Toby, and Kitty Pumpkin, come quick!”

“What’s going on, Natalie?” said Toby.

“Oh, it’s terrible,” the little witch said, dropping her wide-brimmed black hat as she spoke hectically. Kitty Pumpkin, despite all his faults, was enough of a gentleman to pick up her hat and hand it back to her. Natalie brushed off the dirt, and made sure the huge tip was sticking up in the air again as she continued to talk. “Moonlight Mist told me to find you. It’s urgent.”

“How urgent?”

She looked at Toby and Kitty Pumpkin in a look like the moon had just crashed onto the earth, as she slowly said, “The – cauldron – is – not – giving – candy.”

“What!”

“Meow!”

Toby had plenty of bad days, but this was a disaster. Little did he know how worse things were about to get, after all, the night was still young.

Ch 2

Note: I have changed Natalie into a cat. I will eventually rewrite the first chapter to where she is a cat. 

Moonlight Mist lived in a giant pumpkin in between the gnarled branches of a crown of a grove of leafless black trees. It was like a treehouse, but one made from a carved pumpkin instead of wood. The jack-o-lantern home also glowed green instead of orange.

Natalie made a sharp turn on her broom to enter the large grinning mouth of the jack-o-lantern, which almost made poor Pumpkin Kitty fall off. He would have had not Toby grabbed him by his tail.

“Hiss!” said Pumpkin Kitty.

Landing softy in the jack-o-lantern, Natalie hopped daintily off her broom to go and cuddle with Moonlight Mist while Kitty Pumpkin tried to find a corner (fat chance as pumpkins don’t have corners) to sulk in. He had to hide under a huge pile of white sheets instead, his orange tail sticking out.

In the middle of the room, standing over a boiling cauldron full of some sort of bubbling green brew, was Moonlight Mist, an old barn bowl with a monocle over one eye. A large brimmed witch’s hat sat on her head and she wore black robe.

“Welcome, Toby,” said the owl, a large feather wing waved out of her sleeve for him to come forward.

“Hiya Misty, how’s it going?” said Toby, rather flippantly.

“IT’S MOONLIGHT MIST!” shrieked the owl, almost causing poor Nataly to fly off her shoulder.

“But Misty sounds better. Can I at least call you Misty Moon?”

“No, you may not,” said Moonlight Mist, regaining her dignity and straightening her monocle. “Now, you’ve probably wondered why I’ve called you here.”

This was true. Toby was very much wondering why he was called here. Because to be honest only once had he been to the old owl’s abode, and that was years ago when he first got Kitty Pumpkin.

Kitty Pumpkin was a failed magical spell on Moonlight Mist’s part. She had been meaning to summon the spirit of a mighty tiger into a pumpkin to guard her home. She had been putting, what she thought, were all the right ingredients in the cauldron; leaves for the silence they make when they fall, the sound of the breeze for the hiss of a cat, ambers from the fire for sight in the dark, and a pumpkin for the body, and so forth. But she had been duped by a traveling merchant, who, claiming to have a jar of tiger whiskers, had only had a jar of his orange tabby’s whiskers. So when Moonlight Mist mixed all the ingredient together and chanted the spell, she got a lazy pumpkin cat instead of a tiger.

Pumpkin Kitty was so lazy that he had refused to go to the town-square so that she could give him away. But Moonlight Mist was too crafty to let his dissuade her. She had enchanted some paper flyers to turn into paper birds and fly into town. When a paper bird landed in Toby’s hand and he unfolded it, he just knew that Kitty Pumpkin was meant to be his. Don’t ask me how. There are just some things, children, that you just know.

“I was told the candy cauldron is no longer giving candy,” said Toby. “Is this true?”

“Sadly, yes, my child, this is true,” sighed the old owl.

“But, but,” Toby couldn’t get the words of his mouth. No candy cauldron meant no more chocolate bars or peanut butter candies, some of his favorites. What was the point of living day to day without candy?

“I understand,” said Moonlight Mist, gently touching his shoulder – which was more like being brushed by a feather duster – with her wing. “A growing boy like you needs his candy so he can grow up big and strong.”

“What if we can’t get candy?” Toby said.

“Then we’ll be forced to leafy greens.”

“NO!” yelled Toby, waking up Kitty Pumpkin and causing him to leap in the air, who was not very disgruntled. “It’s okay,” Toby said calmly, more to himself than poor Kitty Pumpkin. “We still have the caramel fountain.”

Moonlight Mist gave Toby a sad look behind her specs.

“You don’t mean to say we are going to lose the caramel fountain, do you?”

“I’m afraid it’s drying up, and I have something else to show you. You aren’t going to like it.”

Aside from the moon giving a little bit of light, it was dark out when Toby and Kitty Pumpkin rode with Natalie on her broom, following Moonlight Mist who was flying. There were other glimpses of light. Processions of witches and wizards could be seen on the trail among the forests that surrounded Hallow Valley, carrying jack-o-lanterns that lit up the golden and yellow leaves.

Toby, Kitty Pumpkin, and Natalie landed on a large hill, covered in graves. Toby got off the broom well enough and Natalie gracefully lept off, but poor Kitty Pumpkin, he rolled off again, but this time he almost rolled won the hill. He probably would have gone crashing down, had not Toby grabbed him by the trail. MEOWWW!

“Sorry, buddy,” said Toby, as Kitty Pumpkin grumpily walked away from him on his fat little paws.

“If only you were a real cat, you could land gracefully,” said Natalie smugly.

“Hiss!” replied Kitty Pumpkin, baring his orange fangs – which wasn’t saying much, considering they were always barred.

Large tombstones towered above them. In the moonlight, engraving could be made out on the stones of human faces of those who died. Looking down at Toby and Kitty Pumpkin were statues of angels, gargoyles, or symbols of crosses.

Scary? Maybe to most people, but you would be wrong to think it scared Toby. The graveyard on the hill was one of Toby’s favorite places. He and Kitty Pumpkin used to play hide and seek there all the time. The problem was, when Toby was to be hiding, Kitty Pumpkin would often fall asleep (the lazy loafer).

The three of them followed Moonlight Mist through rows of twisted and cracked tombstones, many of which had ghosts out and about, spirits without human form, arising out of their graves to their nightly walks – if you could call it a walk; more like nightly floats – to the moonlight, waving their arms above their sheet-like forms, a pair of black eyes on their heads. Some of the ghosts were okay just swerving quickly around the graves.

One ghost brush right up against Toby. It felt cold. Ghosts always felt cold.

Past the graves, they came to a row of old, decrepit crypts. A bonfire was burning in the middle, and around it were a group of dancing skeletons. Some of them were beating their sternums like drums, whereas others had strings attached to their ribcages in which they plucked them like a guitar. Not every skeleton was joining on the music and the dancing though, after all, that wouldn’t be realistic. You see, like you and me, skeletons are individuals. Some of them were sitting by their tombs, playing games of dice and cards. One was even standing on one leg. He taken the femur bone out of the other and was using it to play fetch with his skeleton bulldog. He was having a great time until a pair of rogue skeletons came to the back of him, detached his skul and yelled “FETCH,” tossing it for his dog.

“Ha ha, very funny you guys,” said the skeleton angrily to the other two, as his dutiful dog returned his skull to his – well I can’t say body so I guess I’ll just say – to the rest of his frame.

“We’re sorry,” one of the skeleton rogues said. “We won’t do it again.”

“Hey, what about that big orange ball,” pointed the other Rogue to Kitty Pumpkin. “We could kick it around.”

Kitty Pumpkin growled at them while Toby felt guilty for laughing.

“Not now you two,” said Moonlight Mist in a huff. “We have an important errand and I have no mood for your tom foolery. “Don’t make me hex you.”

Toby, Kitty Pumpkin, and Nataly followed them further up the hill, until they came to something cold and wet beneath their feet.

“What are we standing in?” asked Toby. He could see what it was, that wasn’t the problem. It was white and it crunched beneath his feet. But he didn’t’ know what it was. Kitty Pumpkin was having a very hard time with it chilling his delicate little toe beans, so he leapt up into Toby’s arms, knocking the wind out of him.

“I don’t know what it is,” said the Moonlight Mist. “But it has been falling off and on throughout the days. And that’s not the worst of it. Follow me a little further up.”

It was heavy carrying Kitty Pumpkin up the slope.

“Come on!” said Toby to him. “You have feet. Surely you can walk.”

“Meow,” said Kitty Pumpkin in protest.

Nest they came to an area where there was no white stuff, but it felt strangely warm, like being inside a huge jack-o-lantern.

Moonlight Mist waved her wings and chanted “Liticus Illuminus,”

A soft green light came out, lighting up the immediate landscape. On the slopes could be seen grass. But it wasn’t the dull yellow or springy grass. This grass was green and spongy. And there were plants growing out of it with colorful crowns, some red, some blue.

“Meow”…… said Kitty Pumpkin, confused, and since he was a cat and we all know that cats like routine, being unnerved at the change.

“What’s going on?” asked Toby.

“I do not know,” said Moonlight Mist. “But there is a prophecy that states when danger comes from the east, head to the west to bring back what can save Hallow Valley.”

“Okay then, what can save Hallow Valley? This warmth feels awful.”

“I have an idea,” said Moonlight Mist. “But I’m not for certain. Still, are you willing to take the adventure?”

“If it means saving my valley and candy, then I sure am,” said Toby.

Ch 3

Toby Longsocks wasted no time in leaving. Kitty Pumpkin had been reluctant. He wouldn’t go until Toby made a nice little bed for him in the wagon. Could the cat be any more spoiled?

At first Toby wondered why he had been called on this adventure, but according to the old owl witch, the prophecy had also said that a young boy and a freak of nature would save Hallow Valley. Needless to say, Kitty Pumpkin hated being called a freak of nature.

So here Toby was, pulling Kitty Pumpkin behind in a wagon through the forests and hills that surrounded Hallow Valley, making their way west. It was a pleasant night. The moon gave the orange, red, and golden leaves of the twisting gnarled trees a soft glow.

Aside from Kitty Pumpkin in the wagon was food; some potatoes and turnips, a bushel of apples, and a flask of water. There was also a large bag, for before Moonlight Mist had sent them out, she had a vision that the best way to save Hallow Valley would be to stop in the other lands to ask for treats. Her vision told her that refilling the cauldron will candy would renew the magic spell. If only people hadn’t of eaten all their candy the night before, they could have just put it back in the cauldron.

Oh well. There was no sense in complaining. What’s done is done. At least the curse wasn’t coming from the west, so Toby and Kitty Pumpkin didn’t have to worry about walking in that cold white stuff that froze their toes or dealing with that hot air that made them sweat. It was the perfect brisk weather.

Later that night Toby and Kitty Pumpkin came to a stop. Out from right-hand pocket of Toby’s trousers, was what looked like a small purse that the old witch had given him. Ah… but looks can be deceiving and things aren’t always what they appear to be. For this was magic.

Toby threw it the sack into the air and it landed softly on the ground as a three person tent, complete with rolls of bedding and pillows inside. Not only was Moonlight Mist intelligent came it came to magic, but she also knew that two person tents could feel more like a one person tents, and though Kitty Pumpkin wasn’t as big as a human, he was still a bed hog.

That night the both of them slept soundly under the moonlight, in soft bedding, with Kitty Pumpkin snoring.

The next day they continued their journey. They, meaning Toby, walked through the forest until Toby’s feet were sore. The journey went well, more or less. Sometimes Kitty Pumpkin yowled angrily at Toby if the wagon rattled over rocks, roots, and other bumps.

When the sun was setting and night was near, they were out of the forest and the hills. Below them, stretched like a black and orange quilted blanket was Parnickle’s Pumpkin Patch. It glowed as far as the eye could see with jack-o-lanterns. There were a hundred pumpkins. No, hundreds of pumpkins. No, thousands of pumpkins, no hundreds of thousands of pumpkins. Either way, there were a lot of pumpkins. Enough to make enough pumpkin pies to feed a whole city with.

“Is this your family?” Toby said to Kitty Pumpkin, who had been fast asleep in the wagon.

Kitty Pumpkin looked at him, yawned and went back to sleep.

Toby was tired, and for a brief naughty moment, he thought of pushing the wagon down the hill, giving Kitty Pumpkin a ride he would never forget. But he decided against it.

At the bottom of the hill, at the edge of the pumpkin patch, the two of them heard a loud “HALT!”

It was from one of the jack-o-lanterns. His mouth glowed warm with fire, even hotter than the fire within Kitty Pumpkin. Tons of pumpkins were looking at them, for all were living, breathing jack-o-lanterns, all of them still attached to their vines.

“What brings you here?” the same pumpkin asked. It had a a crooked smile and a triangular eyes and nose. 

“We have come to collect candy,” said Toby. “Do you have any?”

“We have none,” said another pumpkin, this one with a round eyes  and a round mouth, an overall surprised expression. “Doesn’t Hallow Valley have enough?”

“I’m afraid our candy fountain has stopped working, so Kitty Pumpkin and I are on an adventure to get more candy, in hopes to bring back the magic and to save not just Hallow Valley but all of Hallow World.”

“Well, we don’t’ have any candy,” said a third pumpkin, this one skinny and oval, with goofy buck teeth and wide eyes.

“So be off,” added the one who originally addressed them.

“Well, can we at least cross through your patch?” said Toby.

“Absolutely not!” said a forth pumpkin, with rows of jagged teeth and sharp eyes. “If you try it, we’ll all breathe fire out to burn you, or we’ll choke you with our vines.”

“Meow!” said Kitty Pumpkin, worriedly to Toby.

“If you want to get through, then you’ll to answer our riddles,” said the third pumpkin.

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Keep the Faith (KTF)

Camel’s Hump Vermont by Eric Marshall. Wikimedia Commons.

KTF! I’m sure many of you are wondering what that means. Basically it was a slogan used by my high school English teacher (though I don’t think it originated from him), an abbreviation for Keep the Faith. Just about every day students would write KTF on the chalkboard. A feel good message, it encouraged students, as well as the teacher to keep going.

Back in my high school days, I personally thought it was silly. And yet, as an adult, KTF means a lot to me. Especially as a writer. In this competitive market in which we try to sell our writing, it’s easy to lose faith. And yet maybe now we have to really hold onto it, even when it feel like we aren’t making progress on our way up the pile of papers of the literary mountain which I call Mount Liteverest. So KTF.

KTF when you have to keep having to write and rewrite your manuscript with no resolution in sight.

KTF when you have to take a long respite from you manuscript because all the pieces of your story aren’t falling into place.

KTF when people, whether they be friends, family, or critics, tell you that you just don’t have what it takes to be a writer.

KTF when you are trying to get your articles and stories read on other sites, but other writers have a monopoly of followers.

KTF when you feel like you don’t have a single original idea.

KTF when you get drawers stuffed full of rejection slips from publishing housings.

KTF when you self publish a book and hardly anyone buys it.

KTF when magazines or newspaper publications reject your articles.

KTF when your computer or typewriter malfunctions, making you lose days of writing.

KTF when the computer crashes an you lose all your writing.

KTF when you feel like you’ll never see your story in the library or the bookstore.

KTF when you are working at a job you loath with every fiber in your being and would rather be writing full-time.

KTF when you lose readers.

KTF when trying to find an agent.

KTF when you don’t have enough money to self-publish.

KTF when you can’t find an illustrator when you need one.

KTF when someone who hires you to be a ghostwriter flakes.

KTF in trying to write articles or stories using Upwork or Fiverr.

KTF when you write something that offends someone and an angry internet mob wants to shame you.

KTF all the time because the odds are stacked against you. Keep writing. Write to save yourself. It’s the only thing we can do at times.

Edgar the Insignificant Ch 2

 A rough draft with plenty of bad grammar, typos, and poor sentence structure.

Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin

Read Ch 1 here.

Back at his cottage, Edgar found himself in deep thought, wondering if what the fortune-teller said was true. An adventure! That was the last thing he needed. Yes, Madame Blue Moon had mentioned agency, but he still felt like she had been trying to push him towards a certain direction.

He looked around his cottage and he hoped not. He loved his warm, comfortable straw bed, the beautiful view the window gave him, and his daily routines. Anything that took him out of day-to-day life was a bad thing. This was his home, where he deserved to be. After a while Edgar just brushed the thoughts away. He was his own man. What did Madame Blue Moon know actually? She was probably just a fraud.

Edgar had been thinking about this as he ate some cheese for lunch and washed it down with a flask of water. Octy had his own bowl of cheese. Edgar had even been so kind as to give the little mouse, named Squeakers, a pebble of cheese on a small plate. Squeakers was greedily gobbling the cheese down like it was a fine cuisine.

Edgar still wasn’t happy that he had to watch over the little white mouse. There was just something so filthy about rodents. Maybe it was the way they foraged through trash, especially rats. Thankfully, Squeakers wasn’t a rat. But he was still a mouse, a vermin. Hopefully he wasn’t carrying any disease. And if the little creature even asked to sleep in Edgar’s bed tonight, no way, he could just forget it. There were some things that just couldn’t be tolerated. Bedding with vermin was one of them.

Squeakers, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to Edgar’s discomfort. He kept thanking him for saving him. “I thank you oh so very much, Sir,” said Squeakers. “Perhaps someday I will return the favor.”

Edgar laughed. “Yeah right. What can you, a little mouse, do for me?”

Not very polite? Certainly not. But maybe one can forgive Edgar by knowing that he was trying to be the best host that he could, even if he didn’t want to be. Why, he even went so far as to make the mouse a little bed from an empty matchbox as well as providing him the covers out of a clean dishcloth.

 “Well, Octy, this is certainly a load of rubbish,” Edgar said, patting his dog on the back before turning out the lantern and falling asleep on his straw bed.

Edgar hoped to fall asleep fast.

Skitter, skitter. Skitter, skitter. Squeak, squeak.

“What do you want, Squeakers?” Edgars said grouchily, turning on his gas lamp.

Squeakers was peering up at him from below the bed.

“Begging your pardon, I hate to trouble you, Sir,” said Squeakers. “But I do hate sleeping alone. Can you move my little bed into your room?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Absolutely not!”

“Oh please, you can just put me on your dresser. I promise not make a peep.”

Exasperated Edgar took the bed he made for the little mouse, and the little mouse himself, into his room and placed them on his cabinet. He had already volunteered to save him, and now the rodent was asking for more. This was too much.

Edgar turned his lamp off, hoping to get some shut eye. Onty grumbled, hoping for the same.

“Will you be going on that quest, Sir?” asked Squeakers.

“Don’t be silly,” said Edgar, “of course not. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.”

If only going to bed were that easy. Though Edgar tried to forget about what Madame Blue Moon said, his thoughts drew back to the images he witnessed in the crystal ball. Who was this girl who was floating in the cosmos, only to be tied to an altar?

Edgar didn’t sleep well that night, being plagued with dreams. He saw that same young girl, and that same monster. He had a large claw griped around her waist. In fear she was reaching out to Edgar.

“Edgar,” she screamed. “Please, help me. Help me Edgar, help me.” And she disappeared, along with the monster, into a gray fog.

He awoke, his pajamas drenched in a cold sweat. With teeth chattering he knew he needed to take a nice hot bath in the hot springs.

“Begging your pardon, are you okay, Sir.” Squeakers was wide awake.

“Fine, I’m fine!” Edgar lied.

“You were dreaming about her, weren’t you? About what you saw in the crystal ball.”

“Not at all. I don’t believe Madame Blue Moon for a second.”

Squeakers stared at him. Edgar shrugged.

“Okay I lied. I was dreaming about what I saw. But, as she said, I have my own destiny. I don’t have to seek this girl out.”

But little did Edgar know, that life doesn’t always pan out the way we wish. Sometimes it gives us a little nudge. Or in some cases, a big push.

Not far from him, on the top of a summit of another part of the mountain chain, was a middle-aged man who, aside from Edgar’s guilty conscious, would help be that push. Dressed in tattered clothes, a rugged cloak, he looked up at the moon that was lighting up the peaks of snow. It was cold. His big fat toe stuck out of his right boot, freezing the snow. That was his good boot. Though his toe didn’t stick out of his left boot, the seams were barely holding it together. He couldn’t remember how many times he had to stop and patch and sew up clothing. His trousers were practically all patches.

He scratched his thick, scraggly, unwashed beard. He was near his destination. He could feel it. His rough weather-beaten hand clasped the hilt of the sword at his side. If they came, he would be ready.

Meanwhile, Edgar had just finished bathing in one of the hot springs nearby. Wearing fresh clothing, Edgar was making his way back to his cottage as the sun was rising. This time around, he noticed the mountain chain more so than usual, and for the first time it hit him. It was a large world out there, and it didn’t stop at the end of the long mountain chain that Edgar called home.

Edgar felt a chill, and not from the cold, to know that it was this large world that took his mother away from him when he was a little child. Though he had become somewhat numb to his loss, this particularly morning the memory stung, as he thought back to these cold mornings in which his mother cuddled him against her, feeling her body heat as she sang to him.

It was in the past.

In Edgar’s mind, he was at least mostly safe on his mountain. He would have a nice hot breakfast of oats and fruit, shave the mugroomps, go fishing, and enjoy life with his dog. The world wouldn’t take him. Not like it did his mother.

But as the day wore on, his thoughts kept turning back to the vision he saw. Tinges of guilt crept upon Edgar. He felt low. He was a coward. He was abandoning a young girl to a monster. Slowly he felt more and more ashamed of himself.

Both Octy and Squeakers noticed. As Edgar sat at the table, his breakfast from five hours ago not even touched, Octy put his head in his lap and whimpered while looking up at him with great, big concerned eyes.

“Excuse me for intruding,” said the little mouse. “I know I haven’t lived you with that long, but I feel it is safe for me to guess that you have been most preoccupied. You seem troubled.”

Edgar couldn’t hide it. “Yes,” he said. “I am troubled.”

“Then I suggest we take this adventure.”

“I don’t want to, I love the mountains.”

“With all due respect, good Sir, I don’t think the mountains are helping you much.”

Neither is having a disease carrier in my home, Edgar thought to himself. But he merely said, “No, I suppose they aren’t.”

They all retired early to bed that night. Squeakers still sleeping separately from Edgar and Octy.

You’re a coward, Edgar thought to himself. How could you let a girl die? Then he shook his head. She wasn’t his problem. Was she?

“Octy,” he said suddenly. “We’re going to find out who that girl is. We’ll see if we can help her.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, Sir,” chattered Squeakers. “When do we leave?”

“We?” asked Edgar. “I didn’t mention you. Octy and I are going. You can have the house to yourself while we’re away. Just try to keep it clean.” Edgar looked at Octy, who looked back at him with somber eyes. “As for when we leave,” he patted his dog on the head, “I’m not sure yet.”

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Hard Truths: A Letter to Writers

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
-Ray Bradbury  

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
-Sylvia Plath

Dear aspiring writers,

When I first learned I wanted to be a writer, particularly an author, back in my middle school days, my naive and innocent mind told me that it would be simple. Just write a book, submit it to a publisher, and watch the money roll in. The idealism was palpable. To make money doing what I loved doing, what could be better? Better yet, what could be easier? All it took was a good idea for a story and readers would flock to it like it was the next Tolkien.

As an adult I learned about how in my youth I oversimplified my goals. Perhaps many of you have too. Forgive me for laying out some hard truths. To start out with, writing is work and it’s intense. Let’s number the ways it can be an emotional strain.

The Challenges of Writing in and of Itself

Writing is a talent that many people have to develop. True, some individuals seem to be blessed with an innate talent for writing, but even they have to hone their craft. The first draft is going to be crap. The second draft will be crap too. The third draft might still be crap, but maybe a little better quality. The fourth draft might not be that great either, but maybe you’ll make some better progress.  No matter how many drafts, expect to write and rewrite. Expect to go to bed frustrated.

Then there is writer’s block. There will be some days that the words flow naturally like a river unimpeded while there will be other days when it feels like a dam has been constructed, blocking the flow. For the latter, you may feel like your whole day was wasted.

You may also struggle with originality. For instance, you may enter a temporary state of semi-divinity, thinking that you have transcended above everyone else with a unique idea and that your mind has been full of enlightenment. I hate to break this to you, but the vast majorities of ideas aren’t original, many having already been done before.

When you find out that your ideas or thoughts aren’t so original, you may feel like you don’t have a voice to offer. You’ll doubt your abilities. You might even think that you shouldn’t write anyway because everything has been said and done. This can be highly detrimental.

Being a writer may also make it feel like you are competing with other writers. Whether you write fiction for Booksie or non-fiction for Medium, there’s a good chance that you’ll see other writers who have more readers and who have received more accolades. Some of these writers may seem like crap-writers, and you’ll see your own work as superior. You might wonder why they have all this praise garnished on them and a heavy readership while you don’t. Often it feels unfair. I know, I’ve been there. It’s frustrating.

Oh, speaking of frustration and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere, there is a chance that this will happen to you. After all, the writer’s mind is a fairground of loud noise, of ideas shouting over one another, each one begging you to come to their stalls and check out their attractions. You’ll be pulled in every direction, working on so many numerous stories, poems, or articles at once that you won’t always know which ones to focus on. Do you go into the whimsical funhouse of creative imagination by focusing on writing a fantasy novel? Or do you go to one of the educational exhibits by writing an article? Time is short, and in this fairground of ideas one has to prioritize.

The Challenges of Promoting your Writing

Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re eventually going to have to promote your writing. It will be promoted in one of two ways, either through sending query letters and samples to publishing firms, or  through self-publishing. Both options offer unique challenges.

For the traditional route, you’re going to have to find out which publishing firms accept solicited manuscripts and which accept unsolicited manuscripts, or which require an agent and which don’t. To those that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, next comes the fun part in finding a literary agent, and they cost money, deducting a percentage of your earnings.

When sending a manuscript, you’ll wait months and months. Oh, and it gets better. Some of these publishing firms don’t want you to send the same submission out to multiple publishing firms. Though in fairness, although this has long been the norm, from my understanding, this is changing. Either way, you’ll have to check to see if the publishing firm is okay with multiple submission forms. And after all that waiting, you may end up with a mountain of rejection slips. 

So, why not cut out the middlemen and the waiting time and go the self-publishing route? In theory it sounds like a sage idea. After all, aside from the aforementioned benefits, self-published writers get to keep more of their earnings. Except there’s a catch. You truly have to promote your writing.

There won’t be any publishing firms to advertise your work. You are going to have advertise your book on your own, which means you may have to take to Twitter or Facebook. And, much like what has been mentioned about Medium and Booksie, you are going to have a chorus of loud voices drowning you out. There is the option of promoting your book at a bookstore. No matter what you choose, you’ll have the skepticism of general readers, who ask why they should pay money on a self-published author.

Another challenge to self-publishing is that you’ll be editing your own work, unless you want to pay large sums of money for an editor. You’ll also have to pay for an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, or most libraries and bookstores won’t carry your book. And if you want to publish in physical forms, you’ll have to pay for the printing. 

 

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Arrested Development. Image from Gify

Feeling Discouraged? Don’t Be! 

Perhaps it sounds like I’m trying to tell you to give up on your dreams. That’s not my intent at all. Good things are worth struggling for.

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.”
-George Washington

It’s going to take perseverance and spirit to stick with writing. But you can do it. In fact, you’ll find it very rewarding. Yes, you’ll have your bad days in which it seems like the odds are stacked up against you. But you’ll also have days in which you’ll achieve a little victory, and when those days happen, you’ll feel a profound sense of gratification. I have a motto, and it simply states….

We have hundreds of failures and hardships, in order to better appreciate and savor one small victory and one single moment of joy a thousand times more. 

That said, I know that these words may ring hollow. So, here’s another tip. Find joy in the process of writing and of learning how to promote your work. Now, I’m a gamer, so I think about it terms of playing a video game. In action platform games, there are multitudes of enemies coming at you, along with traps to maneuver and pits to avoid. In terms of RPGs, one has to spend hours leveling up their character before they can progress throughout the game. And yet, a sense of enjoyment come out of it. The same can be said for writing and promoting. The enemies, pits, and traps you run into may be your own self doubts or unfair criticisms from others. Leveling up may entail writing and rewriting your manuscript, not twice, not thrice, but enumerable times. In terms or promotion, you may not know all the rules, just like you may start off not knowing all the rules and mechanics of a game. But we learn as we go along. Like gaming, writing can be enjoyable. And just like we feel a sense of satisfaction when we get further in a video game, we can have that same satisfaction when we finish a chapter, or even a paragraph, and when we get the attention of a reader. 

I realize that video game progression may not be an appropriate analogy for all you writers. However, think of something you do love, whether it be a physical activity such as sports, hiking, or swimming, or something artistic like knitting or painting, or putting together a puzzle or piecing together a model, in which piece by piece it comes together, and compare it to to the process of writing. It all comes together. Again, see the learning process of writing, as well as the promotion, as something enjoyable.

Last but not least, as cliche as this advice is, write for yourself. Write as a form of escapism or a way to articulate your feelings about important issues or hobbies you love. Write as though you are saving your soul. As for making money and gaining readers, let that come naturally. 

Nick Miller Typewriter Gif by Thierry Van Bissen. Gify.

Edgar the Insignificant Ch 1

Very much a rough draft.

Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin

Edgar awoke early in his cottage upon the mountain slopes. He looked out the window, like he did every day, and like every day, he felt a strong sense of joy to see the slope from his cottage gently slope down to the face of the mountainside. In the distance, past the cliff side and the valley below, the mountains continued in a long chain. Edgar never got tired of the view.

Eager to face a new day of the same thing he had always done for as long as he could remember, he removed his pajamas and changed into his work tunic, trousers, and leggings. Opening his rickety door, the green paint peeling, he stepped out of his stone cottage thatched with dried grass, and walked out into the majestic landscape, with his great, shaggy dog, Octavian (whom Edgar called Octy) trailing behind him, panting happily.

“Hey, boy!” said Edgar, patting him on the head. “How’s it going?” The dog answered with a friendly bark and the wag of his bushy tail, sweeping like a mop

Edgar savored the landscaped around him. Elm and pine trees peppered the surrounding slopes, with huge boulders that he could sit on to read one of his books or to watch the sunset. Waterfalls, some not far from his cottage, rolled down the slopes like glittering silver ribbons.

Yes, life was certainly grand. And for the past seven years, Edgar, now thirteen years of age, had been more than content to shave the mugroomps almost every day, and then to fish, hike, swim, read, and to forage for mountain berries on his weekends. Every Monday, he loaded the mugroomp furs in a little hand-drawn wagon and took them to the valley below to trade with the traders. They in turn would give him necessities or books. And since he was so high up, sometimes he would gaze at the night sky, strewn across with stars as though some salt shaker had spilled its contents on it. There was no doubt that Edgar was the luckiest youth in the world.

Pulling his small wagon, which also had a stool, clippers and razor in it, his dog happily trailing behind him. Edgar walked due east of the slope, until he came to a face of the mountain with a waterfall roaring down the side, into a small river that then went over the cliff further down the slope below. An enclave allowed him to pass by the curtain water. The sound of the waterfall crashing down and hitting rocks tickled his ears and delighted him.

Up a small slope and he could see into a basin full of mugroomps. These big furry animals, the size of elephants with huge wrinkly legs were grazing on the grasses. In the basin, Edgar put down his stool and then gently patted the hairless heads of one of the mugroomps. Though the beasts had large horns that could gore someone, they were gentle by nature. In fact, they were some of the gentlest of animals. Edgar whispered kind words to the beast and even scratched him around the horn, a prim spot that often itched. The mugroomp bellowed good-naturedly.

Plopping himself on his stool, scissors and razor in hand, Edgar went to work cutting and shearing. Aside from their wrinkly legs and wrinkly heads, the mugrooms were large balls of fur. The beasts appreciated losing the excess fur for the summer and the traders in the valley below were grateful to have the furs to knit into stockings, gloves, and winter coats to sell to merchants.

Edgar had learned the art of cutting and shearing from his mother. But for the life of him, he couldn’t completely remember her. He did remember bits and pieces, though. Her smile was gentle, very gentle. He had always felt safe in her arms. And she remembered her reading to him. But she had died when he was six years old. At least Edgar assumed she had. He couldn’t know for sure. What he could remember was that he was eating his breakfast of partridge and fish one morning, when she told him that she had to quickly step out.

“I’ll be right back, my love,” she had said, kissing him on the forehead and ruffling his hair. “There is something important I have to take care of.”

But she hadn’t come back, and Edgar, being only a little boy, had grown scared. He had tried to call out to her, but the snowstorm had been coming down hard. And when she hadn’t returned at night, he had cried in his straw-bed. At that moment in his life, it had felt like the whole mountain range was going to fall on him.

The next day, his mother still hadn’t shown up and he felt alone, a six year old in a dark world.

Well, not totally alone.

Octavian had been there. He had always been there. A species of dog that came from the north and who lived a long and hearty life, some up to their thirties, Octy had been Edgar’s companion, comfort, and protection, letting him cry in his fur, sleeping by his side every night, and always accompanying him to the valley to sell furs.

As for Edgar’s mother, as time went on, he had put her out of his mind, even when he was a child. He had to in order to survive. Even at six years of age, he had remembered what his mother had taught him about how to best trim and shave the fur of a mugroomp. At such a young age, he had to become a man. He had to sell the furs. Eventually the pain of losing his mother had slowly devolved from a harsh pain to a numb sting, and at thirteen years old, he hardly felt the pain at all. He just had to keep living. He had done well enough for himself.

The mugroomp shook its large head and snorted.

“Attaboy,” said Edgar, patting him on a patch of cut fur before he shaved the rest off. The mugroomp turned his head and nuzzled him, almost knocking Edgar off his stool and tearing his tunic with his horn. Edgar laughed. “Careful now, big guy!”

Aside from his dog, the mugroomps were a huge reason that Edgar felt safe over time, even after his mother passed away.

Woof! barked Octy happily, running playfully through the different legs of the mugroomps, getting lost under forests of fur.

When Edgar had a wagon full of furr, and just barely enough room to put his stool, shears, and clippers, he and Octy made their way back to their cottage. This time, on the way back, they stopped to admire the mountain purple, blue, and yellow mountain flowers that were in full bloom. There were so many flowers covering the slopes. Life was beautiful. It was perfect. Edgar wouldn’t have it any other way.

               That evening he went fishing, caught a couple of fish and cooked them up for dinner, giving a plate to Octy, who barked a thank you before chowing down. After dinner, Edgar bathed in one of the hot springs nearby, and then, back at his cottage, read a book under lamplight.

 It was a rollicking adventure story, full of damsels in distress, dragons, evil dukes, and dashing heroes. With his large dog curled up by his side, it was the perfect way to end an evening, and the adventures of a book were the only adventures that Edgar wanted. To put change in his life? Unthinkable!

Edgar lived off the same routine, day in and day out, without a deviation of change, and it would be ludicrous to even suggest that he do so. The truth of the matter was Edgar was quite content with life, and there was no reason for him to leave his comfort zone.

Little did he know that both an older man and a fortune-teller were making their way up the mountains, right up to his little cottage. But we’ll get to that later. For now Edgar was of the impression of living a quiet life. And he was very happy of that.

Adventure was for other people, not for him. He had no desire for adventure, because life was good. However, sometimes one’s life gets shaken up in unexpected ways. And that’s where Edgar’s story begins.

One day as Edgar was coming back from selling his furs in the valley and purchasing some meat from the market, with Octy trailing excitedly behind him in the hopes for a treat, he found a strange wagon, colored blue and decorated with silver moons in different phases, parked only a couple of feet away from his cottage. Two horses, one white, the other black, were hooked up to the reigns of the wagon. This wasn’t too peculiar, as sometimes merchants did come straight to his cottage to bargain, but what was peculiar were the people; if you could call them people, outside of the wagon.

These weren’t like any people Edgar had ever seen before. They only reached his waist, and were mainly composed of long, black robes, dotted with stars of the night sky. The head of one of these beings was not much of a head at all, but was rather a smooth glass ball, dark and cloudy in color. Sitting upon their heads were wide brimmed hats. There were about five of them in all. One seemed to be resting, the other two feeding the horses carrots, and yet another cleaning the dust from off the outside of the wagon, using his robes. The last one was upon a pair of steps at the back of the wagon, guarding a door.

Now, the extant of Edgars ‘so-called’ adventures had been from books. More realistically, they had been from delivering furs to the traders below, and it’s safe to say that not once in his life had he ever seen; is people the right word?; like this. He wondered if this was the norm that he didn’t see in his little bubble. But nope, it was far from the norm, and would be for anyone who saw them.

Edgar could not help but stare in amazement, wondering what could possibly be going on. He could have kept on staring until his thoughts were interrupted by a gruff voice.

“It’s very rude to stare,” said the being guarding the door.

Edgar almost fell backward in surprise. Not only did the beings speak, but, when this particular being spoke, it’s spherical ball changed from black to red flashes of vibrant light.

“I’m sorry,” said Edgar. “I meant no harm. What is this?”

“This is the wagon of Madame Blue Moon!” bellowed the being.

“Madame Blue Moon” said Edgar. “Who’s she?”

“Are you foolish, boy,” said the being. “You mean to tell me you have never heard of Madame Blue Moon?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.”

“She is only the most famous woman, or creature, in the arts of divination.”

“Oh, interesting!”

“Would you like your fortune read?” asked the being.

Octy growled. “Hush boy,” said Edgar.

Edgar had heard some of the traders talk about divination, and to him it sounded like a bunch of hooey, even though the traders told him to give it a try at least once, and it might be fun to humor her. Surely nothing could come of it. And truth be told, Edgar thought that having an average fortune told about his average life would be the most adventurous thing he’d ever face. How little he knew!

“Does it cost anything?” asked Edgar.

“Not a thing,” said the being, “except a heart full of bravery and a resolve worth of determination.”

This was sounding more and more hokey all the time.

“Alright,” said Edgar. “I’m game.”

Onty whimpered, his tail between his legs.

“Can my dog come in with me?”

“AFRAID NOT!” the beings head burst in a flash of violent red. “You see, Madame Blue Moon has had some rather nasty encounters with dogs. Not fond of them, I must say.”

“I see.” Edgar kneeled down to pat Octy on the head. “It’s okay, boy. I’ll be out before you know it.”

Octy whimpered and then jumped up and licked him, giving Edgar a face full of slobber.

Edgar merely laughed. “Relax, boy!” He ruffled his dog’s fluffy head. “If anything should happen, I know you’ll come chasing after me.”

Standing up and addressing the being, Edgar said, “I’m ready.” Or so he thought.

The being moved aside, and the door flew open by some invisible force, breathing out a breath of cold air. Edgar entered to find the wagon had shelves of books, candles, and mystical items such as oracle bones, monkey paws, and strange potions. Hanging from the ceiling were lamps carved out of what looked like some sort of fruit shells, of orange, green, and yellow, basking the interior of the wagon in a dim, eerie glow. The wagon smelled old, the very air ancient, and, as funny as it seemed, and as illogical, he felt like he was standing in a room which housed time, from the very ancient of days to the near future.

At the very end of the wagon was a round table. Making his way over, Edgar found a most strange being, an owl, the size of a human, wearing a dark blue dress, and on her dress were pictures of the moon, in different phases, half moons, wanning moons, waxing moons, and full moons, each one with a smiling face. She wore a blue cap upon her head, and a pair of silver spectacle above her beak. Behind her spectacles were luminous amber eyes that told that they knew all and could see each and every part of you inside and out.

“Welcome Edgar,” she said. “I had a feeling you’d come, but I wasn’t for sure. I am glad to see that my prediction proved right.”

“Prediction, feeling!” exclaimed Edgar, “wouldn’t you just know? Can’t you see into the future?”

“My dear boy, you have the art of divination all wrong,” said Madame Blue Moon. “We are not guided by a set path, but have many different options laid out before us. It is up to us to decide what we will do when the time comes.”

“I see,” said Edgar, wondering if it would be wise to use his current options to get out of this strange wagon.

“Indeed young one, would you like your fortune read?”

“I guess.”

“Wonderful!” and the old owl gave a whistle.

Materializing into the wagon was one of the beings. Without being told, he placed his glass head, folded gently in the sleeves of his robe, upon the table, and then slowly moved to a corner of the wagon. Madame Blue Moon’s feathers glided across the glass ball, gently sweeping away dust, like a little feather duster, in the process.

“Now look into the crystal ball, and we shall see what your destiny is.”

Edgar found himself peering into the ball, into a cloud of dense fog. He began to grow impatient, but then it cleared, revealing a young girl, about his age. She had long ebony black hair, shining white skin, and was wearing a loose fitting white robe. Her feet were bare, and she was walking over a vast cosmos of stars and star clusters. The very starts themselves seemed to speckle in her hair. Edgar took a deep breath in admiration.

Then the vision changed. A monstrous black form engulfed the crystal ball. It had large black wings sprouting from its back layered in muscles, glowing red eyes of fire, and sharp fangs protruding from its jaws. Edgar didn’t get to take a close look at the being, but could see that the monster was over an altar, and upon the altar, tied up, was the young girl he saw floating in the cosmos.

It was too much for poor Edgar, who wasn’t accustomed to excitement, to handle, and he almost fell backwards out of pure fear. But then the visions faded.

“That will do,” said Madame Blue Moon.

“Who was she?” asked Edgar. “What was the creature?”

“This, my boy, is your destiny.”

“And I’m doomed to run into these troubles?”

“Have you not been listening?” snapped Madame Blue Moon impatiently, as if she were chiding a five-year old. “You are not made to accept this role. It’s only an option. You still have your agency.”

Edgar was silent. He had no desire to be in the presence of this crazy fortune- teller. Without even saying goodbye he made his way to the door. But before he got there he heard a high-pitched voice.

“Oh please don’t leave me!”

He turned to his left to find on a table a little metal cage, caging a little white mouse.

“Oh please take me with you!” said the little white mouse. “I don’t want to be eaten.”

Compassion swelled inside Edgar’s heart for the little rodent, even though he really despised rodents.

“You aren’t going to eat him, are you?” he asked the fortune-teller.

“Well, I am an owl,” said Madame Blue Moon in a matter of fact sort of way. “It’s what owls do. Yet I don’t need to read your mind to tell that you have sorrow for that little mouse. Very well. I will forfeit  my snack to go if you promise to take care of him.”

Inwardly Edgar groaned. Babysitting a rodent wasn’t high on his list of priorities. But what choice did he have? He could either be a babysitter or allow the mouse today. “Sure,” said Edgar, “I’ll take the mouse.” And with that he took the cage by the handle, the little mouse happily beaming inside of it, and went on his way.

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Savoring little victories.

Yesterday I finished and posted an article on Medium about an obscure Mac game that I loved as a child. What I didn’t expect was Medium to highlight it in their curator program. What does it mean to be selected by the staff? I’ll let the staff at Medium explain.

 

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Okay. Maybe this may not seem like an absolute big deal. It’s not a publishing firm writing back to me that they’ll publish my novel. It’s not like I have even published a novel in which I’m earning millions of dollars. No. Nothing that grand. This is a small victory.

And yet, do small victories not feel like huge victories at times? For us writers, it can be a boost that our work has potential. It can be that one little, gentle nudge that encourages us to keep on writing, no matter how difficult and insurmountable it seems with the odds stacked up against us like Mt. Everest. It’s this little bit of acknowledgment that gives us the fuel to go further distances. It’s hard to put into words exactly how important support for a writer is. If non-writers are reading this, remember to support your writing friends, even if you are giving constructive criticism.

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Image from Disney’s Princess and the Frog. Giphy.

What’s more surprising is that I don’t think it’s my best article. I feel like I have written better. On top of that, a friend pointed out that my published article had spelling and grammatical errors, which I went back and corrected. Nonetheless, my article was still chosen. I still can’t believe it.

Is this a little victory? Yes. But it’s a little victory that I’m grateful for. What are little victories you are thankful for as a writer?

If you want to read my article and subscribe to Philosophical Gamer, you can do so here. Don’t forget to click on the clap icon if you like my work. Also, if you want to subscribe, remember to click on Philosophical Gamer itself and not Jonathan Scott Griffin or you’ll get posts not related to video games. 

 

 

Who Shall Lead Ch 1: Revised and Expanded

Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin 

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Image copyright by Ljuba brank. Wikimedia Commons.

 

The morning was alive with many sounds. A song from the whistling wind blew gently in Arinthia’s ears, giving her promises of a beautiful new day. Not all sounds could be as pleasant. Scritch scratch, scritch scratch. Tiny little legs of the pinky-sized tip volmont spider were making a cacophony of grinding noise on one the tent’s wooden poles. Munch, crunch. No further than five feet away from her tent, a plains hopper was far more intrusive with his sounds, breakfasting on blades of grass.

Like all Xibians, Arinthia was blind. But this didn’t work to her detriment. Her keen ears more than made up for it. She could hear a blossom fall from a flower, or the first drop of rain splash from twenty feet away. If sounds grew too intense, she was able to shut them out; a light gift that came with the curse. At this very moment, she could have even shut out the sounds volmont spider and the plains hopper. She never did. They always helped get her up. For thousands of generations the Xibians had lived without sight, the very concept of it being foreign and incomprehensible to them.

Arinthia arose yawning, and put on her robe. The dandel hide fur, warm against her body, sent warmth up her spine on such a cold morning. Winter was coming, that much was certain. The change of seasons announced as much with in the air.

Crawling out of her tent, she was greeted by the thumping of a pair of footsteps walking in a wide gape, carrying a quick stride. It could only be that of Keyro, one of the tribes top hunters.

“Good day, Arinthia,” he said, almost too loudly which almost hurt everyone’s hearing. “How are you this fine day?”

“I don’t know,” said Arinthia, “seeing as the day has only just begun. What do you want, Keyro?”

“For you to join me on the hunt.”

“And by hunt,” she formed the sentence slowly, “do you mean that I’ll be able to carry a bow and take down animals as well?”

“That’s silly!” he made no effort to disguise his disgust. “You’re a woman. Your job is to clean the carcasses and to cook.”

“Can’t do it! I’d probably burn it or season the meat with the wrong herbs.”

“It’s not that hard!” protested Keyro.

“Then if it’s not that hard, then I’m sure that you can manage.”

“But it’s not a man’s job.”

“Nor is it my job either,” said Arinthia, hoping to cut the conversation short.

“You really need to be put in your place!” he chided.

Arinthia sighed inwardly. No such luck.

“You were made by Father above to be subservient” continued Keyro, his finger noisily slashing through the air. “What do you think he’ll say when your spirit passes through the gates of the dead, up the bridge to the island above? Can you imagine how disappointed he’ll be in his disobedient daughter, always mouthing off? He’ll teach you a lesson, you can be sure. Father will punish you by having you clean the pots and pans of the Eternal Kitchen forever.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then I’ll have an ally in Mother above,” huffed Arinthia. “She’ll chastise him as only a woman can, and she’ll make him sleep alone while she takes all the royal bedding. Then she’ll threaten him with an annulment of their marriage.”

“How dare you speak lightly of Father above!” roared Keyro.

“How dare you,” she raised her voice even louder, but careful so as not to cause his ears to bleed, “to even think I’d want to be sealed as your companion when you’re not a man, but a mere boy who failed his rite of initiation.”

Now she could her Keyro’s blood flush in his face and the grinding of his teeth. In a sense, she could hear his anger, and it was palpable. Her sharp tongue had cut through a nerve. All males within the tribe had to embark on rites of initiation. Usually it involved taking down some huge animal.

“If you weren’t a woman, I’d slap you across the face,” he hissed.

“What difference does it make it I’m a woman or not,” she retorted. “You shouldn’t be hitting anyone, be it male or female.”

The ground reverberated like a mild earthquake as a heavy staff hit the ground. “Lay a hand on her and I’ll lay my staff on you,” came the raspy voice of Jorgek.

“You don’t scare me, old man!” boasted Keyro.

Stupid, Arinthia thought to herself. If you wanted to lie, you had to lie well. Keyro couldn’t lie to save his own life. He couldn’t even control the thumping of his own heart. The perspiration streaming off of him, like a roaring river, didn’t do him any favors, either.

“Shall I knock you on your backside,” ventured Jorgek, the air screaming against his staff as he raised it up in intimidation.

Keyro backed off, the thudding of heavy footfalls as he ran off.

“That impudent brush hopper!” exclaimed Jorgek. “My dear, did he” – The old Xibian paused, completely puzzled. Arinthia was laughing. “I fail to see what’s so funny,” he said.

“You don’t?” she asked.

Arinthia had loved Jorgek since she was a child. A grumpy and bitter man to many, it was said that he could scare the fur off an ulyix. But under his tough outer shell, he actually beat with a kind heart under his stuff exterior. It was a heart he showed to a very few, and only when trust was earned. When Arinthia was child, she had originally feared him. But unlike all the other children who were terrified of him, she alone had approached him, having possessed the courage that many her age had lacked. It was the courage to listen to each and every one of his footsteps. To hear the way he gritted his teeth in frustration, or the sound his eyelids made when they opened and closed. She let her ears swallow and digest each of the old Xibian’s sounds until she grew to learn what kind of a person he was. She grew to hear his inside appearance, not his outside. His heart was the most useful in helping her come to a conclusion regarding his personality. Certainly he yelled at young children to keep their distance, and he didn’t, generally speaking, have much patience with just about anyone else, even those his age. But when people were frustrated or in pain he was the first to lend a listening ear if they would let him.

It wasn’t to say that she became friends with the old Xibian overnight. It would have been easier to climb a steep cliff bare-handed than to break through the social barriers that Jorgek erected around himself. But open ears did a lot and Arinthia began to relate to him. This slowly broke down his walls, allowing for communication and eventually a mutual understanding. Then, as the years passed, a friendship blossomed like a flower in the spring after a long winter. From her later childhood to the present it was common for her to hunt with him in the fields, to help him make leather from the wild shagrits, and to sometimes just philosophize about life. He had taken upon himself the mantle of a grandfather she had never had.

There were only a couple of topics that were points of contention among the two of them. One such was regarding the Vun. Jorgek believed peace should and could be made between them and the Xibians, whereas Arinthia knew better. Those that could see were enemies, having killed her parents and many others. They had robbed her people of their birthright years ago. Some things could never be forgiven. But she could forgive Jorgek for holding that faulty viewpoint.

Regardless, she wasn’t thinking of any of her qualms towards him at the moment, being far more grateful that he had come to her aid. Hence her laughter. She was laughing because she knew that he would be there, for at least a little while longer, to protect her.

“You should have heard the way he ran off, the way his heart was about to burst through his chest, and the noise of his sweat flying off him,” laughed Arinthia.

“My dear girl, I heard it all,” said Jorgek. “I’m not deaf, yet. But when I am, you know what to do.”

Indeed she did. If a Xibian ever lost his or her hearing it was considered an act of mercy to take them upon the altar to offer them up as a blood sacrifice. When one had outlived their purpose, their blood could potentially heal the land if the gods were well pleased with how they lived their lives. A sobering thought, but a necessary one.

“I do,” said Arinthia. “But let’s not think of that now. Did you not tell me yesterday that you wished for the two of us to go hunting this morning?”

“Yes. I’m so glad you remembered. But I digress. I’m getting old. You know this. What hope does an old Xib like me have against the freshness of youth?”

“You mean to tell me that you just lied about being able to give Keyro a beating? Don’t doubt yourself, old man. You’ll grow senile before you lose the strength of your legs.”

“Why, you’re just as impudent as he is!”

Arinthia shrugged. “Did this just now dawn on your mind? Don’t tell me it took you over fifteen years to finally come to that conclusion. I want to think that your mind is as quick as your legs.”

“Ha!” laughed the old Xibian. “My fists are the quickest, and if you insist on being treated like a man rather than a woman, I’ll knock you on the ground so fast that you won’t hear the wind rushing past my fists.”

“No, I give up,” she laughed. “You really could give me bruises.”

“You’re absolutely right on that account. When I was a young man, I was the envy of the tribe, able to take on the chief himself. I could have any woman I wanted. I was the pinnacle of” –

“Now you’re just making stuff up,” interjected Arinthia. “Are you going to keep babbling on? At this rate the herds will have moved out of our territory.”

“My dear, you know perfectly well that my hearing is superb, whereas yours is subpar, and that I would have been the first to hear them. Not you. But I do grow weary of your biting tongue. Maybe some good old hunting will shut you up.”

“I think you’re right. I’m growing impatient.”

“Then there’s only one way to cure that,” he said in agreement, the bones of his neck cracking as he nodded. He took off, the air whistling to a near screech because of his speed. After all these years, age hadn’t slowed him. He still soared over the land, even with a staff in hand. It was Arinthia who had to keep up.

She followed him by listening to the grass bending under his feet. The flapping noises of the tents against the light breeze and the crackling of the morning fires grew fainter as they neared the mile mark out of the tribe.

They were approaching over the Dead Plains; a misplaced name if there ever was one;  considering they were far from dead, or being anywhere near the thresholds of death. Living and breathing, pulsating with all manner of life placed by the loving parents above. Soft thuds of insects echoed throughout the Dead Plains, accompanied to the thunderous tunes of the hooves of the mighty shagrits. Sometimes the mighty shagrit beasts snorted, causing the air to reverberate around their breath. Arinthia could slightly hear the brushing of a shagrit’s fur when a small fly landed upon them. Aside from the shagrits, other animals could be heard nearby. From the ground came a light but steady scratching, as the tiny claws of the little blue and red moles constructed their tunnels. Sharp teeth gritted, like a rocks being scraped against other rocks, about a quarter of a mile away. It was the ulyix’s getting ready to hunt their prey, the shagrits.

Arinthia chided herself. While her ears were too enraptured by the cacophony of nature, Jorgek had already found a suitable hiding place behind a boulder. The air whistled a musical note around his bowstring as he slowly pulled it back. The first kill would be his. Not that his obtaining the first kill mattered in the scheme of things, but she and the old Xibian had a contest as to who could achieve the first kill. For a moment it looked as if it would be his. But, as luck would have it, Jorgek, in his anticipation, didn’t pull the bow string back far enough and the arrow clanked on some rocks just a couple of inches away from the shagrit’s hoof.

The rumbling of dirt being kicked up from the lumbering beast indicated that it was running to the west. With no time to lose, she took a shot at the beast. Her arrow whistled through the air, singing of death, piercing her ears. But it found its mark. The shagrit fell to the earth. The beast’s heartbeat, still pounding like thunder, grew fainter and fainter until it was mere whisper, to whence it was no more.

“Looks like dinner is on me tonight,” boasted Arinthia.

“I let you have it,” snorted Jorgek. “Besides, I’m getting too old for hunting and cooking anyway.”

“And yet you were able to outrun me,” she pointed out to the old man.

“Is that so? No wonder I had no energy left for hunting.”

“Come, old friend,” Arinthia patted his shoulder. “I’m going to prepare you a dinner fit for a village chieftain, using only the finest herbs and spices.”

“Such as the kind you can get from the fields on any day,” he pointed out.

“You have no imagination,” laughed Arinthia.

“I’m afraid I burnt mine out many years ago,” he sighed.

“No matter, old man. Dinner is still on me.”

Back at the tribe’s encampment, Arinthia was greeted by the gossip of the women and the girls, and it was no wonder. She had blood on her from when she and Jorgek had carried down the large shagrit (something that was very unbecoming of a woman, both the hunting of an animal and the lifting of anything heavy) and they could smell it. It was a sour and bitter smell that reeked of death. To further the indignation of the tribe, Arinthia had broken another code by not washing after she had cut up the pieces of meat to leave hanging out by her tent before cooking them. If a woman or a girl was to get herself dirty, she was to wash herself immediately, something Arinthia had always refused to do. It was bad enough when the women of the tribe got a speck of dirt on them, but to have specks of blood, that was blasphemy to the gods themselves.

Jorgek would have fended her from the malicious gossip and the outright verbal abuse, but he was incapacitated, having hurt his back helping to carry the strips of meat of the animal. Not that Arinthia minded being alone. She saw herself as far from being a damsel in distress. She could hold her own, particularly against the three primary instigators, even if they held important positions of power within the tribe. There was Zylin, a daughter of a high priest, Hymla, one of daughters of the chief’s advisors, and finally, conducting herself with the greatest of pomp and the greatest of self-aggrandizement, there was Kywal, the Chief’s daughter. Zylin and Hymla followed Kywal as though she was the goddess herself, worthy of their admiration and subjugation. Certainly the chief’s daughter did order them about, but in the end they found it worth it to be a part of the elite. There were numerous members of the tribe who they snubbed their noses at, but Arinthia was the one they enjoyed showing their condescension to the most, and the reason was obvious. For at least the other women, even though they were of lower rank, still knew their place as women. But it stirred the hearts of Kywal, Zylin, and Hymla to anger that Arinthia couldn’t accept her place.

“Still acting beastly, I see,” Kywal’s voice grated like a spear piercing animal bone. “Really Arinthia, would it hurt you to exercise more feminine restraint and dignity?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Arinthia shrugged. “I had no one as an example to learn it from, least of all you three.”

The grating of Kywal’s fists clenching, along with the rapid beating of her heart, collaborated together to produce a dissonance of rage. By the sounds of things, Arinthia knew that she had crossed a line, but she didn’t care. Though Kywal wanted to strike her, Arinthia knew that she wouldn’t. Even those at the top of the hierarchy had their code of honor that they were expected strictly to adhere to, for it was given by the gods themselves, and defiling it could invoke a great cursing.

“Ignore her,” Hymla implored Kywal. “She’s just a leech, hardly worth getting upset about.”

“Leech!” exclaimed Arinthia. “You must be mistaken Hymla. From what I understand, you three always leach after what your fathers provide. As for me, I provide for myself with my own hard work.”

“Such insolence!” shrieked Kywal. “Are you insinuating that we are idle?”

“I didn’t think it was much of an insinuation as it was a statement,” retorted Arinthia, not being one to miss the mark.

“I’m sure the gods will forgive you if you strike the smugness from her face,” Zylin goaded Kywal.

“Remember the precepts,” Hymla reminded her two friends in not so much a humble way. Humility was foreign to her. But piousness, that was her nature, and she did so piously, in the hopes that they would show Arinthia that they were every bit her superiors.

“You’re right,” said Arinthia, hoping to humor them with her false humility, though she knew it wasn’t very likely. “I am unworthy in your presence, and I could certainly cultivate a spirit of meekness in following the precept the god and goddess have set before us, which, in my case, is learning to be more lady like.”

“I guess we can’t all grow up possessed with natural grace,” Kywal feigned pity. Her insincerity was evident enough, but if she would toy with Arinthia, Arinthia would toy with her. “Perhaps I was too hard on you,” the chief’s daughter continued. “Bad habits aren’t easy to break.”

“This is true,” said Arinthia. And unable to resist one last jab she added, “Just as many of us who have the unfortunate habit of spending our time in the company of spineless urchins who only tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to know.”

“Indeed,” huffed Kywal, with a storm raging in her as her lungs inhaled oxygen.

Kywal walked the opposite direction of Arinthia. Zylin and Hymla trailed behind her like two obedient canyon wolf pups.

Sadly, the gossip didn’t stop with those three. Gossip swarmed around her, stinging Arinthia’s ears like hornets as she made her way back to her tent. It went without saying that the other Xibians knew that whispering, no matter how low they tried to keep their voices, amounted to very little. Rather whispering was just considered a form of being polite within their culture. There was something condescending about pretending to be polite when one could just be upfront. At least with honesty you didn’t have to worry about trying to conceal your heart rate. Yet, she didn’t care as much about the gossip circulating among the adults. For there’s was spoken to one another more in a voice of concern, instead of condemnation, for Arinthia, unlike how Kywal and her two lackeys spoke of her. Yet, a tribe devoid of gossip would be the ideal.

Putting these thought out of her mind, Arinthia took an old tree branch to carve into a spear. Finding a good rock to sit on, she started to whittle away the large and bulky branch laying across her lap. This wouldn’t take long. Each time her knife carved a slice off, the branch grew thinner, more elegant. And though blind, carving wood presented no challenge to Arinthia. Each layer of the branch had a different tone. One might even say that each layer of wood had a different voice. Subtle but distinct. It only took training one’s ears to properly listen as blade and knife spoke together.

Spears weren’t the only things she carved out of wood. Over the years she had become quite skilled in carving everything from bowls and spoons to little wooden sculptures. Her favorite carving were two little wooden statues she had made of her parents. She had carved their likeness not long after they had passed away, when she was a girl of seven years of age.

Her parents had been lost to the Vun, the rival tribe. Because of this, she would always hate the Vun. She didn’t need her leaders telling her how evil they were. She already knew. When she was a little girl, she couldn’t take up a spear to kill those who murdered her parents, so she tried to honor her parents by preserving their likeness in a carving. It went without saying that her carvings weren’t perfect to start out with. It took her many years to get the likeness right, but she never doubted that she did eventually achieve their nearly, if not a perfect, likeness. She had carved many things since then, but the little wooden statues of her parents would always be her favorite.

Though she hated the Vun, there were times she felt sorry for them. Cursed with no hearing, they could only see. As a backwards society, they were denied the blessing of listening to the earth. Sight was deceitful, or so she had been told.

The time whittled away just as she whittled away on the wood, and soon she held a spear in her hands while her feet sat in a hill of wood carvings. It was a good spear. It would find its mark.

Sufficiently hungered, it was now time to prepare dinner from the hunt. She was about to gather sticks of wood for the fire pit beside her tent, when she heard the sounds of footsteps and the rattling of wood.

“You shouldn’t be up and about,” said Arinthia. “You hurt your back.”

“Listen to that,” the old Xibian said. “It doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”

“I thought I told you to let me take care of dinner.”

“I did. You said you’d cut and cook up the meat. But you didn’t say I couldn’t gather firewood for it.”

Arinthia sighed. He was a stubborn old man. “Just put them down and take a seat, old fool. “And please, let me take care of the rest.”

“Can I at least start the fire?”

“With the way your back muscle is strained right now, I’d rather you not, lest it grow worse.”

Despite the grumpy Xibian’s protests, Arinthia was already on her knees over the fire pit, scraping her knife against a flint. She had a fire blazing in no time.

It was beautiful. Each of the fire’s flames were a different instrument, making music slightly distinct from the other, but all blending together to make a chorus of pops, crackles, and low rumbles. Fire! It was the song of life, but also the song of death, and it sang of both.

Arinthia breathed in the heat of the flames while giving a prayer of thanksgiving to the god parents, as the meat roasted on a spit. The prayer would last for the whole duration of the cooking of the meat. While praying, she would continually place sticks on the fire when it was called for. The meat and fat sizzled like a rainstorm and popped like a cork above the fire. When her ears detected that the meat was fully cooked, she ceased her prayers, and cut a couple of slabs off of it for Jorgek and herself. She handed him a wood plate, she had carved years ago, with a piece of meat on it.

“Ah, your parents would be proud of you,” Jorgek smacked his lips upon taking a bite out of their kill.

“For my cooking, old man?” she asked.

“You young people always just assume,” Jorgek indigently shot back. “I was going to say that they would be proud of what a strong and independent woman you turned out to be.”

“I was of the mind I was supposed to be subservient.”

Jorgek sighed. “Who’s giving you problems, girl? Let me know, and I’ll give them three times as many.”

“Would it be a fair fight? It would be three against one. And you’re so, well, old.”

“Don’t underestimate my shriveled body, because I have the strength of ten young men,” Jorgek boasted, his hand banged against his ribcage like a drum.

“Yes, but you’d have to then take on the chief and his advisors.”

“Oh, so it’s them. Yes, that does cause a problem. Ah well, I do think your parents would be proud of you.”

“Especially if I avenged them of their murderers,” she nodded.

“Would your parents want you to harbor revenge in your heart?”

“They would want me to avenge them,” Arinthia found herself growing tense.

“Revenge or avenge?”

“Is there a difference?”

“I don’t think so,” said Jorgek thoughtfully. “Do you?”

“Yes,” said Arinthia resolutely. “They killed my parents.”

“That’s what you’ve often said, young lady. But who, who killed your parents?”

“The Vuns,” said Arinthia impatiently.

“But which Vun?”

“Does it matter?”

“If you want justice, then it better matter,” a bone Jorgek had thrown aside knocked against a log. “Only one, or a few of them, are guilty of killing your parents.”

“They are all Vun!” she protested.

“And they are all individuals,” added Jorgek.

Arinthia inwardly fumed, not bothering to hide the beats of her heart from him. The old man was so reasonable in many aspects of his life. Why couldn’t he be reasonable enough to see that the Vun were monsters beyond any sort of empathy? They were even worse than the Korrigans, who they also had to listen for. She took a huge bite out of the shagrit meat, feeling she’d rather choke on it than have to listen to anymore of Jorgek’s nonsense.

“Have you ever stopped to ask yourself how the Vun see us?” the old Xibian pressed the matter, not one to be deterred.

“As prey to hunt.”

“And we don’t hunt them?”

By now Arinthia was growing increasingly exasperated. “That’s different,” she snapped. “We are hunting them so they don’t kill us first. Ours is out of necessity and protection, not out of pure enjoyment.”

“And yet it would seem to give you pleasure to kill all the Vun for what a couple of them did to your parents,” stated Jorgek gravely.

At a loss for words, Arinthia finished up her meal before throwing the bone into the fire, which snapped much like her heart. “I don’t bask in your company in order to be put down,” she curtly told him as she left the fire to crawl into her tent.

“Offense is not my intent,” said Jorgek. “But I do know that you are far too intelligent to just buy all the lies that the chief, the elders, and the priests give.”

“Lies! What are you talking about? Generally we can detect lies.”

“Not if whoever tells the lie believes them.”

Those were the last words that she heard from him that night as she tied her tent door closed.

Inside the confines of her tent, Arinthia found solitude. Behind her bedding of furs was a mantle she had carved, and upon it were her little wooden statues of her parents.

Silently she spoke to them, but not by whispers as that would still be loud enough for Jorgek, who was still sitting by the fire outside, to hear. Instead, she opted to speak to them just by engaging in meditation. She told them that she would still avenge them, and that though she wasn’t taking on the role of a traditional Xibian woman that she still hoped to make them proud of her. The more she poured out her heart the more the tears poured out. But she wouldn’t give Jorgek the benefit of hearing her cries. In order to stop the tears from hitting her knees, she pressed her palms to her eyes, in the hopes of muffling the sound.

What was truly frustrating was that no matter how many times she told herself that wiping out the Vun would be justified, a small part of her wondered if what Jorgek said was true. The admonition that her desire was one of vengeance and not just grated on her heart more than the volmont spider grated on the wooden tent beams every morning.

Was she the villain? No. She couldn’t have been. The Vun were out of control. It was said that they took young Xibian children away from their parents to eat them. They didn’t even have love for their own people, as their elders would hunt citizens for sport. Instead of hugging and nourishing their own children, they beat them with rods until they were bruised and bleeding to toughen them up so that they could beat her people. They were truly a civilization without warmth.

And they had took her parents.

The memory of losing her parents clung to Arinthia like a shadow. She had been told by one of the captains that her parents had been found on the plains, both of them riddled with spears. How Arinthia had cried when she had heard the news. An hour before, her parents had been hugging her kissing her, telling her they loved her. They had said they were going out hunting in the field, and that they would be back soon enough. That had been her last memory of them. But how she remembered it!

Arinthia didn’t care what Jorgek said. Her parents, who had loved her with their hearts and soul, who lavished affection on her, unlike those heathen Vun, had to be avenged. And avenge them she would.

She fell asleep that night, cradling her carving of her parents to her breast,  listening to the rhythm of her heartbeat sorrowfully against them.

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Frame of Mind Ch 2

If there was more magic in this painting, then it was Mayor Walpole’s words, as the citizens jumped to them, setting up for the festival in the vineyard.

To start out with, barrels of the best wine were rolled out. Then tables were set up and draped in white cloths with flower petals scattered upon them. Maypoles were erected, booths were set up with games, and stalls put in place with fresh produce and baked bread. Mouthwatering beef was roasted over a fire-pit. While a few people were laughing and drinking; curious to know more about this England that Charlotte came from, most ate their meals gloomily, pretending that she wasn’t there. To them she was a bad penny, a mangy, flea-ridden cat that walks into your house uninvited and plops himself down on your clean bed sheets. While she tried to drown out those who hated her, she could still hear them speaking in harsh rumors behind her back. She was certain that she heard the words “witch,” and “curse” used a couple of times. To those few who were interested, Charlotte would try to find out information about the previous person who entered their world, but they would just brush it aside as if it were of little consequence.

Still, Charlotte was a Fillmore and a Fillmore would not be dissuaded.

“Why don’t you try minding your own business!” said a portly butcher. He was ruddy-faced, with greasy reddish-blond hair to his shoulders, and stubble on his chin. He looked at her with small, beady eyes against a mound of flesh covering his face. His nose was snubbed. As rude as this may be to say, he reminded Charlotte of a pig in an apron.

“Being graced by a stranger is rare, but we count it as a blessing,” he continued, shaking a drumstick, just as greasy as his hair at her. “Adds some seasoning to the stew, if you understand my phrase. Yet even a stew can turn rancid if the ingredients are rotten. ”

“I beg your pardon, but I am afraid I am at a disadvantage, not knowing your name, and I certainly hope that you will pardon any offense,” Charlotte replied, trying to be as graceful as she could.

“I’m the one who prepared the fattened calf for you. Now, eat, drink, and be merry, for the sun must eventually set, and while at it mind your own business.”

Taking his advice, Charlotte helped herself to a chunk of meat, and a slice of bread.

“I didn’t mean to be nosey.”

“But of course you did,” the butcher waved a fat finger at her. “That’s the problem with this town. Too many chickens pecking at each other’s feet instead of for their own food! They want to know everyone’s business. I’m trapped in this loathsome world. How I dream of a much bigger world!”

“That’s enough out of you, Jasper!” Walpole intervened.

The butcher walked away in a huff.

“Pay no attention to him,” said a young lady about Charlotte’s age. “Jasper has always been the disagreeable sort. We joke that he butchers happiness as much as meat.”

“Who might you be?” asked Charlotte.

“Elaine” she said, brushing a hand through her curly red hair. “Anyway, don’t mind him. He’s full of hot air.”

“I have no idea what I did wrong,” Charlotte was perplexed. “Some were inquiring about England and I answered as best I could. What made it improper to ask about the previous resident in turn? Also, am I really that loathed by the others?”

“You did nothing wrong. It’s just a rather sore spot, don’t you know. What happened was a wound inflicted upon our world, but I promise you that no harm will befall you.”

“That’s good,” Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. “What happened to the previous person?”

Elaine sighed. “The last person who came here, claiming to have come by way of painting, snuffed out his flame.”

“You mean?”

“Yes. He killed himself.”

Charlotte felt the festivities darken even further.

“Come,” she said, taking Charlotte by the arm. “A group of us are going to dance around the maypole. Do join us.”

This request ushered Charlotte into a circle of young men and woman, hand in hand, dancing while musicians played fiddles and flutes as she was exchanged, arm hooked to arm, from one young man to another. The men, practically in every sense of the word, swept her off her feet. Though, many more that distrusted her stood aside.

Around midnight the celebration came to an end.  Most people had departed, but Elaine, and another youth by the name of Henri, remained by her side.

“Someone else coming here from a painting,” said Henri. “I would never have thought.”

Charlotte was more than happy to tell the pair of them as much as she could. She told them how large her world was, the different countries and nationalities, and its history. They listened intently, swallowing every word she had to say. It wasn’t hard to understand why. When Charlotte asked them about their world, she found out that what she saw was all there was. There was nothing beyond the mountains, the field, or the sea, but a barrier. These, including the woods and the town, were the only things they knew.

“But that must be frightfully dull!” exclaimed Charlotte. “How can one live such an existence?”

No sooner had she said this she berated herself for being rude.

“It’s all we know,” shrugged Elaine.

“Quite right,” said Henri. “But William, the previous resident, felt just the same way you do, the one who” – His sentence was interrupted by Elaine stepping on his foot.

“What happened to him? I know he killed himself, but whatever for?”

Henri returned a stern look back at Elaine. “It would be foolhardy to even think of concealing it. The cat’s out of the bag, and she’ll find out eventually, even if I don’t tell her.”

He looked at Charlotte sadly. “I’m afraid you can’t leave this land.”

“Can’t leave! But my parents” –

“Will never see you again,” continued Elaine in tears.

“No!” Charlotte got up and tried to run from the pain of what she just heard.

“Wait!” Elaine tried to grab her.

But it was no use. No words could comfort Charlotte, and reason wouldn’t work, which was now a poison rather than a balm.

She ran across the field back to where she entered from, only to see a black wall from the night sky. Furiously she pounded upon it, hoping it would shatter. It didn’t, but her parents’ voices came through.

“Now, now, don’t cry, dear,” her father was comforting her mother.

“It’s all my fault,” wept Mrs. Fillmore, “for trying to force her into something she wanted no part of.”

“Now dear, you can’t blame yourself. All we can do is keep a stiff upper lip and hope for the best. I have the constable and everyone else in town searching for her.”

“Oh if she were here right now, how I would cradle her in my arms and tell her I love her!”

“As would I, my dear, as would I.”

“Mother! Father!” yelled Charlotte as loud as she could. “I’m here! Please don’t leave me!”

There was no answer, as their voices faded out of earshot. When Charlotte’s voice was near mute, and her hands sore, she sunk down against the barrier and wailed profusely.

No! This couldn’t be it! But running to the east and to the west only greeted her with that same blasted barrier. There was only one thing left to do, run north to the sea and hope that the barrier would give way there.

Waves pushed her back as she swam against the current. She wasn’t sure how far she swam out. In her desperation, tired arms could not keep her from swimming, but a solid wall could. She mustered as much strength as she could trying to break the barrier, but it wouldn’t give way. But she did. Drained of strength, the waves pushed her back to shore.

Wet and disheveled, she felt very isolated and claustrophobic. If the wall couldn’t shatter, her heart could. She was stuck now. Stuck in a world in which the majority of people hated her.

She was asleep when Henri and Elaine found her.

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The Uncomfortable Heights of being a Writer

The big wheel can climb however high, but it inevitably returns to its starting point.
-Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies

Just sit down at the computer (or the typewriter) and type out your story or article. It sounds simple enough. But if that’s the case, why can it be so hard to be motivated? On the surface, it would appear that the problem is laziness. At least that’s what I used to think my problem was. I’d rather be reading other books, binge-watching a TV show, playing video games, or napping with my pets. And for a long time, I blamed my lack of writing on my being slothful. But as time went on, I wondered if it was something more. What if it was fear?

But fear to write? How absurd is that? Maybe not as absurd as I was once imagined, and a French graphic novel helped reinforce my view.

 

Bubble & Gondola 

Renaud Dillies’s graphic novel Bubbles &  Gondola really helped put my thoughts into perspective. *Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead* 

Bubbles & Gondola

Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies. Published by ComicsLit.

The book opens with the portayel of being as writer as the greatest thing ever. Charlie the Mouse loves being a writer and having his own schedule. However, underneath all that supposed freedom lurks his fears of writing that chain him. This is aptly illustrated when he comes across a towering Ferris Wheel. The ride operator, a jovial stork, offers Charlie a free ride; in fact he insists, pushing the poor little mouse into one of the gondolas before he can protest.

While on the ride, Charlie ruminates how he has vertigo from the heights. Appearing before him is a little blue-bird who asks him if he’s taken the time to appreciate the view. When Charlie says no, he eventually tells him that “You want to write, but your ideas are a big wheel turning upon itself,” and adding “You’re afraid of writing because you suffer from vertigo.” Wow! Did that hit close to home for me.

 

Suffering from Writer’s Vertigo

Like Charlie, the mouse and the main character in Bubbles & Gondola, I suffer from writer’s vertigo. From article to blog posts to novels and short stories, it feels like I have too much to do at times. It’s dizzying. And while Bubbles & Gondola doesn’t portray that being a problem for Charlie, it does show that he has a problem getting motivated, something I have problems with.

It would be  hard enough if I had problems getting motivated solely because of the amount of projects I had to tackle, seeing as this will sometimes immobilize me because I don’t know what to start on first, but I also have to deal with fears whether my writing is good enough. This imposter syndrome ways down on me, making me doubt my writing abilities and my accomplishments. It’s acted as a blockade, preventing me from just writing a novel or short story.

So, like Charlie, sometimes I find myself wasting time around the house, because I can’t deal with the dizzying vertigo of so many projects at once, or I lack of faith in my writing abilities.

 

And yet, we all have to step out of our comfort zones. This applies to writers and non-writers alike, as we put one foot forward each day. Writing isn’t comfortable. I wish it was. Rewarding? Yes. But more often than not it can be thankless. Though many people may not thank us, we can at least thank ourselves for pushing forward and overcoming our fear of writers heights.

Frame of Mind Ch 1: rough draft

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Baber’s Farm. Image by Arthur Hopper. Wikimedia Commons.

 

“Do hurry up, Charlotte,” said her mother hotly. “We’re going to be late.”

It was a hectic morning in the Fillmore household. Thirteen year old Charlotte was supposed to have already been dressed in her Sunday best, out waiting by the carriage to be taken to Lord Digory’s estate in order to have lunch with his son Bryan. But she was far from ready, instead having a lazy morning at the country manor, away from the smog of the industrialized cities and the busy streets of horse-hooves clattering, and she planned to keep it that way.

All this nonsense of Bryan as a romantic interest was too much to bear. Better off kissing a warty toad than a spoiled brat.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child, just as the good book says,” mumbled Ms. McDougal, the family maid, in her thick Scottish accent, as she dusted off the bookshelf.

“My dear Ms. McDougal,” replied Charlotte rather casually, with just a hint of flippancy, “do you not suppose that it’s possible to overbeat a child with a rod?”

“Aye,” Ms. McDougal was sweeping up the last bit of dust. “But in your case a few more lashings might do you some good.”

“I suppose.”

“Come now, sweet. You know your parents only have the best of intentions for you. Bryan Digory is a fine young man, but the both of you are only thirteen. They don’t expect you two to be sealed in holy matrimony for a few more years.”

Fine young man! There was a laugh! Digory was fine and dandy if you liked a simpering little boy in the body of a teenager. Needless to say, Charlotte did not.

“And until then am I to dread those years?”

“Dread? Of course not!” exclaimed her mother. “You put yourself in your own cage, Charlotte. There is a world of hills full of butterflies, of boating, and sipping tea by the Thames, but you live in a dungeon of your own making. The train will be leaving for London soon, and you aren’t even ready to take the carriage to Brighton Station.”

“Brighton is so far away,” said Charlotte. “I think it would be much better if I bide my time here. The countryside is positively lovely, and the air so fresh.”

It would have been counterproductive to put the hot flame of a candle against Charlotte’s flesh. Good luck burning her with that. Her mother, on the other hand, was a different story. Charlotte could feel the hot gaze of her mother’s eyes burning into her. Why couldn’t the old biddy just leave her alone? She wasn’t interested in a spoiled brat like Bryan. She could care less that the boy’s father was a successful merchant in the East India Company. Nor did she care that he had propitiated large sums of money. The Digorys were still dolts.

The memory of their first meeting was fresh in her mind. Charlotte’s mother had taken her to meet them over in Stratford-upon-Avon a couple years back at the Church of the Holy Trinity. It was all a façade concocted by Lord Digory to try and dupe the Fillmores into thinking that his family was of firm faith. But it didn’t take much to see past the pious masks into the reality of their pretentiousness just by the little ways they treated those around them. When they had gone to their household, Charlotte had been shocked to see how Bryan ordered the servants about. Sure, the Digorys were cordial to her and her family, but the Fillmore’s were well off. If you were of a noble class the Digorys would love you. If not they would despise you. They may have had her parents fooled, but not Charlotte.

What was even more intolerable than young Bryan was his father Lord Digory. For not only did he have stock in the East India Company, but he owned textile mills and other factories. That would be fine and jolly-well good, except that many of his employees were children, working to the bone to bring home a meager living to their parents. A few had even died in his factories. Of course, he never blamed himself. Far be it for he, a proper British gentleman, to think he committed any sin. After all, according to his magnanimous nature, he was giving the children income, keeping them off the streets, and teaching them all about thrift. It made Charlotte sick.

Charlotte tried to reason all of this with her parents, but they were never much for reason.

“Be that as it may, you simply cannot stay here, child,” said Mrs. Fillmore, proving Charlotte’s point. “Do you want to me to tell your father that you are being disobedient?”

Normally these words were enough to chill Charlotte. It wasn’t that her father was an unreasonable tyrant. On the contrary. Red-faced jovial and with a deep booming laugh, a salt of the earth, that was her father. Look in the dictionary under the word fair and there would be an engraving of him, but even he had his limits. Children being disobedient to their mothers was one of them. Yet, this time around Charlotte found herself not caring if she angered him or her mother.

“I hope we are late,” she retorted.

“Charlotte” gasped her mother. “Mind your manners. What would your father say if he were here?”

“He would more than likely send me to bed without supper,” sulked Charlotte. “You two are so unreasonable.”

“Young lady, your tongue wags too freely. Perhaps we should just leave you be and not bother you anymore.”

“I daresay sometime I wish you would. You’re like a crowing rooster, never giving me a moments rest. I wish I could just escape from this family forever.”

Next, it was Ms. McDougal’s turn to grow angry. A brick of a woman, one would think they were facing against a raging bull with her. Sadly for the maid, Charlotte was feeling like brick wall.

“Charlotte, your impertinence towards your own flesh and blood is unbecoming of a child.”

“Oh, I beg your forgiveness,” said Charlotte sarcastically. “Do tell, what sort of impertinence is becoming of a child?”

“Now you see here,” the maid towered above her.

“Oh, I see a lot. I see a washed up maid who is blocking my view of the window.”

“Charlotte!” exclaimed her mother.

“I will not be a pawn in you and father’s games. Though, I’m sure Ms. McDougal doesn’t mind. You might have to find a chess board to fit a lady of her girth on, I dare say.”

Shaming an older woman for her weight, particularly one who often acted like a grandma to Charlotte, was bad form, indeed. But Charlotte wasn’t concerned with form. She only wanted to be left alone.

On that note, her mother and the maid, equally shocked, left Charlotte to herself in the study. Not a word of ‘we’ll talk later, dear’ or ‘wait until your father hears of this.’ It was a silence worse than a parting word, a silence Charlotte tried not to let bother her.

Charlotte stretched across the couch, yawning, like a great big cat. It was nice to have some respite from all the needless nagging. Of course she was overreacting. This marriage was only arranged in words, not common law. She could marry whomever she wanted to when the time came. This wasn’t like the stories she had heard of about India in which arranged marriage was the status quo.

While lounging about, her eyes scanned the study past the bookshelves, the marble busts, past the grand piano with the ivory keys (those poor elephants), past the fireplace carved of marble (all the marble was overkill), until her eyes fell onto her favorite painting, and for good reason, too. It was painted with a godly touch. The field of grass slopped downward, dotted by oaks and elms, in which a dirt trail ran through it. A river cut through the trail with a quaint stone bridge arching over it. In the backdrop was a set of snowy mountains. By the side of the mountains was a town, and behind the town was the sea. In front of the town were some pastures teaming with cows. The painting had something magical about it, as though it was real.

“I wish I could walk into that painting,” Charlotte whispered to herself. “How I wish I could just escape this family and never come back! I would be positively chuffed if I could just leave this blooming world behind without my parents ever bothering me again, away from elitists like the Digorys, away from the factories in which children work until they die only because they aren’t rich. I want to forsake it all forever.”

Taking a closer look at the painting, she saw that the very water seemed to rush as branches from the trees bowed to the wind. Grass popped, trying to leave the confines of their frame. In a hypnotic sense of wonder, Charlotte slowly made her way to the painting, entranced by the strange magic it was working on her. Her senses wrapped in the moment, she breathed in the fresh air of a landscape never defiled by factories. A breeze rippled her hair.

She looked around her, amazed at what had happened. She was in the painting. Birds chirped in the trees around her. Taking off her sandals, she felt the grass beneath her feet. Over the bridge, across the river, the village beckoned to her. She was in a whole new territory. Who else could say that they had stepped into a painting?

Charlotte ran through the grass, and, as nice as that felt, she could only imagine sledding down the slopes of that pristine mountain. Crossing the stone bridge, she looked over it into the water to see fish swimming about.

Oh the sweet freedom! For the time being she was away from her demanding parents. Why, it was all so beautiful that Charlotte again wished never to leave. Factories? Not one! She wasn’t sure how she knew – it wasn’t like she had gone in the opposite directions to find out – but somehow she just knew. The worst smell was the sheep and cow pens nearby. Better yet, there was no child labor and no Digorys.

The smell of animal pens gave way, pushed aside by the smell of fresh bread baking from the ovens of the cottages. No sooner had she smelt the aroma had she stepped onto a paved road. Though the full-scope of the village was hard to grasp just by a painting alone, now that Charlotte was smack dab in the middle of it, she could see that it was comprised of comfortable little shops, quaint outdoor cafes with vines growing across the walls, small but elegant manors with vineyards and wineries, and white plaster cottages.

The townspeople looked at her. Charlotte wondered if she had food on her face leftover from breakfast. But then she laughed at herself. Obviously she was a stranger so they would stare.

“Top of the morning to you all,” said Charlotte cheerfully. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charlotte Fillmore.”

Her greeting was reciprocated by whispers around her. Though she didn’t perceive any danger from anyone, it was understandably a bit unnerving.

“What are you doing here?” snapped an older woman. “Have you come to turn into a stink in our town?”

“A stink?” Charlotte was taken back.

“Yes, like the last stranger,” scoffed another.

“What is you want?” asked a child, equally hostile as the adults.

“I don’t want anything,” said Charlotte. “Except to see your town.”

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard,” proclaimed another.

Finally, a man of important character made his way towards her, took off his stove-top hat and bowed. “Good evening, Ms.” he said kindly. “My name is Joseph Walpole, the mayor of the town.” Behind his flabby face, his bulbous nose, and thick black mustache were kind eyes that put Charlotte at ease.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Mayor,” said Charlotte. “I didn’t mean to alarm anyone.”

“Not at all. We just aren’t used to strangers. And please address me as Mayor.”

“Oh? Not many strangers come here?”

“Not often. That’s why people were nervous about you. We don’t want what happened before to happen again.”

“Why? What happened before?”

Walpole grew pale. “It’s nothing,” he quickly composed himself. “What’s wonderful is that another person, one of flesh and blood came here.”

“Flesh and blood?” Charlotte was confused. “I thought you were all painted by a brush.”

“Blimey! Is that where we came from?” jokingly quipped another man.

“You mean you don’t know?” asked Charlotte. “I take it none of you came from a woman?”

“Well, of course we came from a woman,” said an older woman. “Where else would we come from? We just don’t know who the first man and woman were.”

“Then however did you all come here?” It was a silly question. How else would have they come here except by a painter’s brush? Obviously they didn’t jump into the painting like she did. Or did they? Did they have no concept of God, or of Adam and Eve? It was a wonder, and what was the expression? Will wonders never cease?

“We don’t know,” said Walpole, “if you’re referring how we came to be here to begin with. Now where did you say you’re from?”

“I didn’t say. But I’m from England.”

“England!”

“I came here through a painting.”

“A painting of us?” asked a slender lady, who looked about the Mayor’s age.

“Ah, allow me to introduce you to my wife,” beamed Walpole.

“A pleasure,” said Charlotte before continuing on. “In a sense, but not really. It was a painting of this ocean, this town, this mountain, this field. My eyes couldn’t detect any of you, though.”

“Did not someone else claim to come through a painting?” asked another resident.

“Yes, but suffice to say he’s no longer among us.”

“Why? What happened?” asked Charlotte, growing more curious as to who this person was.

“Now, young lady, be a dear and think nothing of it.” The Mayor turned to the crowd. “We have a guest with us. Let’s all make her feel welcome.”

“We would all feel a lot more welcome if we could make just make her go home,” said another resident.

The crowd began to grow more restless, and for a moment Charlotte wondered if she’d have a mob on her hands.

“That’s enough!” proclaimed the Mayor in a booming voice. “Tonight is a night of celebration, not condemnation.”

Celebration! The very words trickled out of the Mayor’s mouth. Little did Charlotte know, there was more magic, as well as terrors unforeseen terrors to come, but such is life.

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